Arts View

Dec 2023 – Feb 2024

Tendai Mwanaka

Tendai Mwanaka, Multi-disciplinary Artist

Harare, Zimbabwe

Hailing from Nyanga in Zimbabwe, Tendai’s creative output spans writing (non-fiction and fiction/creative writing), visual art (painting, photography, video, drawing) and music/sound.

Available in English, his works have been translated into at least 10 languages including French, German and Spanish and have been published in over 27 countries.

Tendai is founder of ‘Mwanaka Media and Publishing’ which he established in 2018.

AGN; Why a multi-disciplinary approach to art?

TM; Skills you learn from one discipline can be transferred and used in another discipline, it fosters creativity, individuality, production…in that you rarely suffer from artist’s or writer’s block. When painting is not working you can compose and make music, and that will freshen your mind such that when you return to painting you will return refreshed and with new perspectives. Everything is driven from the inside such that you can easily find new passions. Of course it is a dynamic and flexible approach to creating work.

AGN; When and how did you start out as an artist?

TM; I grew up doing all sorts of arts: theatre, visual art and music…I was in the school choir in grade 2, conducted church choirs all through my early years; but as a professional artist I started in 1994, straight out of high school. I started with writing, poetry and short stories…

Still Centimental

AGN; Which artistic discipline enables you to best express yourself and why is that?

TM; That’s really difficult for me to pick here as I equally and easily produce and create in so many fields but if I am to choose, maybe poetry.

AGN; What word or phrase best encapsulates what you are about as an artist i.e. your essence and can you expand on why you say this?

TM; Of course, multidisciplinary and collaborative…in that I use all sorts to create art. I have used numbers, letters etc… to create visual art. I have used the essay form to write poetry… and I am always interested in collaborating with other artists and creators…if you check my anthologies I do them with many others as co-editors. I am still very much inspired by the J Morris adage, “collaboration as a slim condition of possibility”.

AGN; Computers have enabled more people to engage in artistic pursuits than previously and this has been quite impactful. What one thing has been a game changer in terms of your own artistic process/output?

TM; I would highlight the basics such as email, websites, e-marketing and word processing…when I started out in 94, you would send print copies through snail mail and it would take months to hear from the publisher. Now it’s a momentary thing, boom your email is being read in South America, Asia etc. Preservation and sales of materials in different formats has also made a difference to me, eg e-copies/e-books, pdfs, jpegs etc…  

AGN; Over the last ten years what key change have you observed in the Zimbabwean arts scene and is this something you feel is a step in the right direction?

TM; I think more and more artists are coming up and less and less consumers are there…especially in artistic fields that are not as popular like painting, poetry, literary writing. So on one side it’s a positive, i.e. proliferation of more artworks but on the downside there is lower consumption of artworks in relation to the increased output.


Constructed humans

AGN; What motivated you to start your own publishing company?

TM; I went through the difficult process of trying to publish my work and finding very little interest from established book publishers. You would submit a manuscript, wait years and years, even when you have paid a reading fee to hear back from publishers; or you may never hear back from them.

They had a narrow view in terms of what they wanted to see being published and so they blocked alternative voices, what people call gate-keeping these days. They had a number of authors they could take in a year, and the numbers were very low.

I felt it’s up to people like me who love writing and publishing to see to it that the industry expands, and I could only do that effectively by opening a publishing company where there are no limits except for the number of works that can be published in a given period. No, we don’t care if a book is going to make money or not. We publish books because the books have to be published, they add to and expand scholarship.

AGN; Given what you now know about running your own company, what would you do differently had you had the knowledge you now have when you started out in 2018

TM; It’s a learning and adaptive process, so I wouldn’t have started it any other way. The learning happens through doing it and I feel like that’s the best way I could do it considering what was available to me.

It would have been nice to start with a print run of millions but that would have required a huge amount of capital and there is no guarantee you would get your money back. I was reading an article a few weeks ago about a major publishing company selling say 3000 copies of an author’s book they had paid a $1,000 000.00 advance for. Finding myself in a similar situation would definitely have broken my enterprise and shuttered an emerging company.

AGN; You hold a diploma in marketing. How important is your knowledge about marketing in your business activities?

TM; Extremely important! I can’t emphasis this enough. I even encourage authors to study business courses too…even if they have a masters’ in creative writing. Business courses ground you and give you skills to manage your career…yes a writing career needs to be managed, let alone a publishing concern.

AGN; It is not easy to establish and grow a business. You have now been operating for over 5 years. What do you consider to be the next level you would like your business to get to and how do you intend to get there?

TM; Yes it has not been easy; from my marketing studies I became aware of the importance of the 4ps. You need to work on these and make sure that at least you are doing one of these quite well when you are starting out. Product, Price, Promotion and Place. I focussed on product, and made sure I got as many books out there as I could.

This year we have published 35 books taking our tally to 130 titles in 6 years; that’s an average of at least 20 titles a year. We will continue strengthening this P going forward but I now want to focus on another very important P, that’s promotion. We publish the Best New African Poets Anthology and we have now issued out our 9th yearly volume, and we would like to expand this into the Best New African Poets International Festival of the Arts, whereby we will invite the 1000 plus poets we have published across all volumes to come for a week of festivities in one African country next year.

We are starting with Zimbabwe. We encourage those who can help or sponsor us in this endeavour to get in touch. Promotion also includes distribution, linkages, advertising…we want to see how we can also work on these. Thereafter we will work on pricing and place, or concurrently work on all of these. We want to see Mwanaka Media and Publishing expanding all over Africa, having offices and independent publishing divisions in African countries and the world over.

Meditation series 1

AGN; How would you describe your formative years and can you share a particular memory from back then that you are still fond of now?

TM; I think for every creator it’s getting the conviction that you are creative. This happened around 1997 for me, and this was reinforced when I first saw my name in print which happened in 2005 when my first poem was published in the US. 

AGN; Which person has been the most impactful in your life and what is it about them and/or what they have done that leads you to highlight them?

TM; I could say people…South African editors of journals like Itch, New Contrast, New Coin…they were the first on the continent to publish my work especially the late Hugh Hodge. The American magazines had started earlier.

American writing and art especially work that comes from its college magazines and the space they give to emerging writers. Of course my family, although they thought and said I could do something else with my life, they were still supportive. Friends; Tamary and Winnie Mlambo, Godfrey Fore, Fortunate Machingauta, Fanuel Madhuku and my sister Tapiwa Stella Mwanaka…these guys would offer me their laptops and computers to type my work when I couldn’t afford to buy one for myself, some would send my emails when I had no access to email.

AGN; We all have strengths and weaknesses. What do you feel is your greatest strength?

TM; Indefatigability.

The setting sun

AGN; It is important to take time out to unwind and rejuvenate. How do you go about doing so?

TM; I do farming…I love farming. Photography for me is a way to unwind…travelling to interesting places and taking pictures, just talking to friends and family.

AGN; What sort of things do you typically find funny?

TM; Mocking serious people, politicians… watching sitcoms and generally comedies. Talking to new people…of course making funny jokes about myself too.

AGN; What are you most passionate about and is there a movement or cause that you are mostly drawn to or advocate for?

TM; I think politics, human rights and identity issues. Currently I am posting a lot about the Palestinian issue…I have been writing about this for years. I detest any form of injustice and I am never scared of pointing out the real perpetrators.

I was criticising Robert Mugabe in my writing way before a lot could in Zimbabwe, even at the height of his powers. In tandem, promotion of other artists is something I am very driven to do.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

Ri Iyovwaye

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on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) – Dec 2023